Respectful Insolence

Bravo! Homeopathy deconstructed by the CBC

Something amazing happened on Friday. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to blog it as soon as I would have liked because (1) it happened on Canadian TV and the video wasn’t available to anyone outside of Canada until it showed up on YouTube and (2) Craig Willougby’s changing his mind about Andrew Wakefield really did gobsmack me to the point that I had to blog about it, so rare is it for someone who used to accept pseudoscience to have the courage and intellectual honesty to admit publicly that he is changing his mind. Still, even though it’s three days later, I didn’t want to let this pass, because it’s the very antithesis of the sort of “tell both sides” journalism that I complained about just the other day. Basically, Marketplace, which bills itself as “Canada’s consumer watchdog,” aired an episode entitled Homeopathy: Cure or Con? (Alright, alright, it’s not the most original title in the world.) The episode is described thusly:

Canada’s leading consumer ally takes a long hard look at the theories, and the remedies. For the first time in Canada, we conduct a test of homeopathic medicines, investigating the science behind these so-called medicines. In light of our results, we ask both the Ontario government and Health Canada why they are lending credibility to the homeopathic industry. Johnson also meets up with a rep from the world’s leading manufacturer of homeopathic medicines, who admits that even the company says how homeopathty works is a mystery.

Watch, as we witness a Vancouver group of skeptics taking part in a group overdose of homeopathic remedies. Perhaps most disturbing we learn that some homeopaths are treating cancer patients with homeopathic remedies. A leading cancer specialist says there is no role for homeopathy in the treatment of cancer, that it is a “scam that is not evidence-based.”

Fortunately, the special is now available on YouTube in two parts. Hopefully they’ll stay up long enough for you to view them, because they’re definitely worth checking out:


Amusingly, the special begins with a group of skeptics gathering to stage what has now become a common event among skeptics attempting to demonstrate the utter ridiculousness of homeopathy, namely a homeopathic overdose, whom they checked in with periodically throughout the special. Not so amusingly, the producers then went directly to an interview with a cancer physician named Dr. Stephen Sager, Associate Professor of Medicine at McMaster University and a radiation oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Center in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, who is represented as being “open to alternative medical therapies but not homeopathy.” Well, I suppose that’s something. At least Dr. Sager realizes that homeopathy doesn’t work, saying, “There has been absolutely no evidence at all from clinical trials that interventions with these remedies have any effect whatsoever.”

This is, of course, true, but it is rather irritating that Dr. Sager fell for the evidence-based medicine paradigm where clinical trials are in essence all that matter, and failed to point out that, on purely basic science considerations alone, for homeopathy to be true, several well-established laws of physics and chemistry would have to be not just wrong but spectacularly wrong. Fortunately, the special gets much better after Dr. Sager. It’s not that Dr. Sager is wrong; it’s quite true that there is no convincing clinical evidence that homeopathy functions as anything more than a placebo. It is, after all, water, and Marketplace shows that with a reporter going to the seashore and pointing out that a 30C dilution is the equivalent of diluting one drop into the entire ocean. It’s not quite as visually striking and well-explained as Richard Dawkins succeeded in doing in his two-part documentary Enemies of Reason, but it got the job done. Then the producers had popular homeopathic remedies analyzed:

Marketplace asked chemist Matthew Forbes to analyze two of the most popular over the counter homeopathic medicines, Belladonna and Ipeca, both at the common 30C dilution factor.

In each product, Forbes tested for any trace of the active ingredient. He found none. “It’s below a level we can accurately or precisely measure,” says Forbes. “It’s roughly equivalent to five billion times less than the amount of aspirin you’d take in a single pellet.”

According to Forbes, the medicines in our test were shown to be sugar pills.

“We can say that they are primarily sucrose and lactose. Any active ingredient that is left is at such a small concentration compared to the sugar, it’s virtually mind-boggling.”

Which is what anyone who understands the science has known all along. Of course, one has to wonder how the companies actually did the dilutions, because if they did them correctly there shouldn’t be any detectable starting ingredient left. Yet, at certain points, Forbes sounds as though he is implying that there was some left at the very limits of detection, but I might have misinterpreted that.

In any case, particularly amusing is the part where the reporter interviews a spokesperson for the French manufacturer of homeopathic medicines, Boiron, one of the largest in the world. When the spokesperson is confronted with the observation that Boiron is selling sugar pills (at 7:18 in the first video), each indistinguishable from the other, the spokesperson denied it and even hat the chutzpah to claim that maybe science hasn’t developed to the point yet where we can tell the difference between these substances, claim that we “know that they work,” and claims that how they work is a “mystery.” Later in the show, the President of the Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada, Ranvir Sharda is interviewed, with much the same sort of nonsense–and worse, as we will see later.

Perhaps the most damning part of the show is the part where the real homepaths are introduced and unmasked. One homeopath said confidently that a homeopathic remedy, which she presented to the reporter, could prevent polio instead of a vaccine. An interview with the mother whose child was being treated by the homeopath reveals that she buys into it completely. When the reporter points out that her child is not protected against polio, the mother counters that the homeopathic remedy is protective, saying blithely, “to each his own” and defending her choices. We also learn that the mother thinks her child is protected against measles, whooping cough, and other diseases.

As a cancer surgeon, to me the most shocking part of the report occurs when a reporter calls a homeopath, telling the homeopath that she has a friend with breast cancer. She describes the cancer as stage I and that “some cells have moved into the neighboring tissue.” The homeopath replies, in essence, that of course she can help with breast cancer because homeopathic remedies “boost the immune system.” The homeopath even specifies a time, saying that the remedies can work within 15 days, promising to get her the medicine and saying that “we’ll see” and that “maybe the the cancer cells are dissolving or burning in the body.” She then says:

You don’t even felt, but when they do the ultrasound and do the CT scan, they’ll see that, okay, the cancer cells are going, right? Within two weeks.

Words fail me here. Unfortunately, they don’t fail Ranvir Sharda, President of the Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada, who not only doesn’t back down when confronted with tapes of the homeopath claiming to be able to cure breast cancer, but even claims that he himself is able to cure breast cancer if it is stage I or II and that he has cured all kinds of cancer, such as prostate cancer. To support his claims, he produces a number of dubious studies by homeopaths, including Luc Montagnier’s claim that DNA somehow produces electromagnetic signals, because, I guess, he’s a Nobel scientist. Too bad of late that he’s gone completely woo.

Perhaps the most depressing part of this story is learning that the government of Ontario is preparing to regulate homeopathy. Hearing the Orwellian explanations of a hapless Ontario government official that they were trying to make sure that homeopathic preparations are “as safe as possible” and that they are sold “professionally.” Of course, the problem with government regulation of nonsense is that it gives the imprimatur of government approval on that nonsense, implying that it is safe and effective. People, the vast majority of whom are not scientists, wonder, quite reasonable, if the government not only permits it but regulates it as a legitimate drug, doesn’t that mean it’s a real, accepted therapeutic modality?

In the end, this Marketplace episode is a win for skepticism and science. Although two homeopaths are interviewed it’s done skeptically. The homeopaths are challenged and not allowed to get away with dodging and weaving claims made by fellow homeopaths that they can cure cancer. I wish we had seen a lot more reporting like this about vaccines and, in particular, about Andrew Wakefield. Unfortunately, the woo is strong, as evidenced in the comments, particularly this one by Barbara Etcovitch, who bills herself as a “classical homeopathy”:

The idea of selecting and interviewing people who couldn’t possibly have any clue about the science of Homeopathy was genius and added so much to the show’s hilarity. And how did you actually find someone to publically state that she could cure cancer in 15 days? It was brilliant because real homeopaths don’t make claims.

Of course, we who found the episode so comical are the educated with an understanding of vibrational medicine and the quantum world. We are also people who are aware of media hype and manipulation. So, I am somewhat concerned that the less informed viewer may have missed the humor and taken your burlesque seriously. In that case, I would like to make you aware of the dangers of taking a biased stance and then bending, stretching and negating the facts to suit your bias. Not only does this approach represent shoddy research and unethical journalism, but it also misinforms a public greatly in need of education.

Homeopathy is quantum medicine. There are countless legitimate experts around the world who can attest to its brilliance (you may want to have a look at the work of George Vithoulkas). There are physicists who can explain the subject of ultra-molecular doses and there are libraries filled with literature on the science of Homeopathy.

Sadly, the only real joke is homeopathy itself, and fortunately, Marketplace demonstrated that brilliantly. I could quibble with their selection of Dr. Sagan, but in reality he acquitted himself just fine here. Fortunately, homeopaths tend to be so clueless that they don’t realize that the joke’s on them.

Comments

  1. #1 Prometheus
    January 18, 2011

    My favorite quote:

    “Homeopathy is quantum medicine.”

    “Quantum”…it doesn’t mean what they think it does. Quantum effects are measurable. Homeopathic effects? Not so much.

    Like many in the “alternative medicine Universe”, homeopaths seem to think that “quantum” is a synonym for “mysterious”.

    Maybe they just need a better thesaurus.

    Prometheus

  2. #2 Matthew
    January 18, 2011

    To be fair, for a homeopath, quantum *is* a synonym for mysterious. If they don’t understand the very basic chemistry of water, they’ve got no chance with subatomic physics.

  3. #3 Tsumanai
    January 18, 2011

    “…real homeopaths don’t make claims.”

    “…real Christians don’t do that.”

    Sounds like another religion to me, complete with the abandonment of reason and the ignorance of facts.

  4. #4 reasonablehank
    January 18, 2011

    Wow. Second vid just made me angry. Arrogance of ignorance indeed.

  5. #5 Tsumanai
    January 18, 2011

    “…real homeopaths don’t make claims.”

    “…real Christians don’t do that.”

    Only her little “sect” of homeopaths has the “real truth” about homeopathy. Sounds like another religion to me, complete with the abandonment of reason and the ignorance of facts.

  6. #6 Mike
    January 18, 2011

    What really bugs me is the way homeopaths use physics terms in ways that really go beyond what they mean. If you ask any well-trained physicist, he or she will say it’s a load of crap. It makes a physicist cringe to see the terminology of his beloved science (energy, vibrations, resonance, quantum effects, etc.) used in misleading ways. As Pauli has said, “It’s not even false.”

  7. #7 OttawaAlison
    January 18, 2011

    I haven’t watched the episode yet, however Marketplace is where I First learned of the anti-vaccine movement (they did a show about selling chiro adjustments in lieu of vaccines.. I think it was back in 2004).

    I’ll write to MPP to tell him that the not gov should be discouraging homeopathic remedies and not regulating them.

  8. #8 V. infernalis
    January 18, 2011

    Forbes made the mistake that many scientists do when talking to the media: he spoke like a scientist! Instead of saying “It’s below a level we can accurately or precisely measure”, he should have said “these products are indistinguishable from sugar pills”. The show effectively said this for him, but it would have been more powerful coming from him.

  9. #9 Composer99
    January 18, 2011

    My tax dollars at work (doing something good, in this case). All right.

    However, I better also write my MPP about this Ontario thing.

  10. #10 Neal
    January 18, 2011

    You “with an understanding of vibrational medicine and the quantum world”, I would bet, have never taken a class in functional analysis, quantum field theory, differential geometry, or even elementary quantum mechanics. Those of us who have — we know that you’re a liar.

  11. #11 Joe
    January 18, 2011

    The comments at the CBC site http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2011/cureorcon/ are heavily infested with true believers.

  12. #12 Anton P. Nym
    January 18, 2011

    “Vibrational medicine”

    I saw that in the comments last night, and all I could think of in reply is that the term sounds more like the title of a low-budget “adult” film than that of an actual field of medicine.

    I certainly believe that some people have had headaches disappear 15 minutes after taking a homeopathic remedy. I have no reason to doubt that particular first-hand account. The question people should be asking about this claim is, “how long would the headache have lasted untreated?” My bet would be ~15 minutes.

    — Steve

  13. #13 Wrysmile
    January 18, 2011

    Hey everybody

    Long time lurker, sometime poster. Posted this on Neurological the other day. Just thought I’d share again in case anyone missed it. It’s a BBC newsnight report from the 4th of Jan with Simon Singh. There’s some undercover footage of a homeopath offering pills for malaria who actually says that she’s just plucking the figures she’s just quoted out of thin air.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgHRWB6-k-Q

  14. #14 Epinephrine
    January 18, 2011

    Was so glad to see CBC take a firm stand against quackery with this episode. Maybe there is hope for us – with sufficient pressure, we might see some change in the way homeopathic products are licensed, and and some action on the part of the Competition Bureau against homeopaths for making false health claims. For any Canadians out there (or others, I suppose), it’s worth knowing that the Competition Bureau is the group responsible for investigating health fraud, which is making false or misleading statements about the health effects of treatment/products. Homeopathy fits the bill, so feel free to report any homeopaths that make unsupported claims.

    Health Fraud at the Competition Bureau website.

    Also, Erik Davis (who writes for Skepticnorth) mentioned the possibility that Health Canada’s endorsement of homeopathic products as “safe and effective” with their review is a violation of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, as it makes a false representation of the effectiveness of these products. It might even be possible to have Industry Canada investgate Health Canada for their role in endorsing homeopathy (though he points out in his article that it’s unlikely to succeed).

  15. #15 Todd W.
    January 18, 2011

    It would be really nice to see something like this in the U.S. Unfortunately, changing the situation here is nigh impossible, since homeopathy was written into the drug regulations from the very beginning. Maybe a mass homeopathic suicide outside Congress? Similar smaller ones at regional FDA offices?

  16. #16 DaveH
    January 18, 2011

    Marketplace and its sister show The Fifth Estate (more general news, miscarriages of justice, etc.) are generally highly respected here in Canada (unless you happen to be a neocon who hates the CBC), though they have stepped on pretty much everyone’s favourite little fief at one time or another.

    Though to me, that is just a sign that they are doing their jobs…

  17. #17 prn
    January 18, 2011

    To me, classical homeopathy’s “success” is in part a reflection of some degree of a cumulative lack of safety, efficacy and confidence in various conventional treatments across the generations. That is, a likely unknowing wager on a safer placebo effect combined with time, natural recovery, incidental improvements e.g. sunshine, fresh air and food, with hopefully self-limiting conditions, or hopefully not worsening them. Such may have at times yielded better clinical results than truly dangerous medications e.g. arsenicals, many older medications, and some newer ones, too.

    I doubt I could ever accept a placebo over a chemical or biologically based therapy, after a careful, informed selection. However, therapeutic nutrition seems to be slowly penetrating, displacing or augmenting, conventionally invented drugs in many areas. I am thinking of entities like cholecalciferol, selected amino acids, specialized peptides, specialized beta-glucans, L-5MTHF, DHEA, 2-methoxyestradiol, niacin, lipoates, N-acetylcysteine, which do things that more expensive and dangerous drugs, or procedures, may not.

    No need for purified water or sugar pills. There should always be a better chemical alternative to a true placebo.

  18. #18 Jolo5309
    January 18, 2011

    As an aside, the other host of Marketplace, Wendy Mesley, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She went to a doctor.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Mesley

  19. #19 Jolo5309
    January 18, 2011

    As an aside, the other host of Marketplace, Wendy Mesley, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She went to a doctor.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Mesley

  20. #20 Calli Arcale
    January 18, 2011

    Orac:

    In any case, particularly amusing is the part where the reporter interviews a spokesperson for the French manufacturer of homeopathic medicines, Boiron, one of the largest in the world. When the spokesperson is confronted with the observation that Boiron is selling sugar pills (at 7:18 in the first video), each indistinguishable from the other, the spokesperson denied it and even hat the chutzpah to claim that maybe science hasn’t developed to the point yet where we can tell the difference between these substances, claim that we “know that they work,” and claims that how they work is a “mystery.

    What I want one of these interviewers to ask is how, if there is no equipment capable of distinguishing between the remedies, how is a consumer expected to tell if they’re being hoodwinked or not? How can a regulatory body, for that matter? Chinese manufacturers spiked their product with melamine to make it appear higher in protein, which killed a lot of pets; how can we, the consumers, be assured that 30X Arnica isn’t really 30X Salt or, indeed, 30X nothing whatsoever? All this focus on the fact that homeopathy is absurd, and very little on the fact that the inability to detect any difference is very convenient for a con artist. Maybe there are honest homeopaths, but a system like that would attract frauds like rotting meat attracts flies — and the homeopaths themselves admit there is no way for us to detect the fakes.

    Prometheus:

    “Quantum”…it doesn’t mean what they think it does. Quantum effects are measurable. Homeopathic effects? Not so much.

    This always bugs me, because not only are quantum effects measurable, in a sense that’s actually what the word means.

    Todd W:

    It would be really nice to see something like this in the U.S. Unfortunately, changing the situation here is nigh impossible, since homeopathy was written into the drug regulations from the very beginning. Maybe a mass homeopathic suicide outside Congress? Similar smaller ones at regional FDA offices?

    Protest outside of Congress — yes. Outside of FDA — I rather suspect they’d love to be able to shut homeopathy down, but they do not have the authority to do so, thanks to the very regulations that created them. It’d be like protesting outside of Kennedy Space Center for the continuation of the Shuttle program — preaching to a choir that would dearly love to do what you ask, but isn’t allowed to.

  21. #21 Militant Agnostic
    January 18, 2011

    Calli Arcale

    how can we, the consumers, be assured that 30X Arnica isn’t really 30X Salt or, indeed, 30X nothing whatsoever?

    I shudder at thought of someone taking homeopathic light of Saturn when they should be taking homeopathic light of Jupiter. Even worse is always the risk of contamination with homeopathic Plutonium.

  22. #22 Lynn Wilhelm
    January 18, 2011

    I really loved when the host tells the caring (read: gullible) mother that there is no active ingredient in her much loved homeopathic medications and vaccines. Is that really it? I’d like to know how many people who use these really understand. You sure won’t get this information from the practitioners (read: charlatans).

    I just want to be sure there is nothing more to homeopathy I’m missing. Is the entire emphasis of the “practice” on providing these remedies? Or might the treatment include more? Are there non-diluted remedies a practitioner might use in treatment? I wouldn’t be surprised if some practitioners use other forms of treatment, but would those be properly called homeopathy?

    I ask this because I’m part of a group full of woo. There are people touting reiki, reflexology, the law of attraction as well as homeopathy. There are also some reasonable people. I hope to use the link to this broadcast in response the next time I see the homeopathic woo. I want to be seen as an accurate source for information, or a source for accurate sources. If this is all there is to the practice, homeopathy is an easy one to debunk.

    *posted a similar comment on Bad Astronomy–in case anyone felt a little deja vu.

  23. #23 Epinephrine
    January 18, 2011

    @Millitant Agnostic (#21)

    It’s easy to laugh at, but it’s one of the better arguments against the review and approval of homeopathic products – the inability to tell them apart. Giving them individual drug identification numbers is silly if they are indistinguishable, and it may be a violation of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act to label them as containing 200C oscillococcinum when there is no way to verify it. (substitute US terms/statutes where applicable).

  24. #24 Scott Cunningham
    January 18, 2011

    This might almost be funny if I didn’t live in Ontario.

    Also, I attend a university affiliated with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and some of the 4th year Anthropology courses that count toward qualifying for med school… there’s one called “Ethnomedicine: cross-cultural healing” that scares me more than the usual post-modern sounding humanities course. I’d be highly surprised if that wasn’t cultural relativism in defense of woo.

    Huh. I blame politics, because it’s easy to do and helps me sleep at night. Because I don’t know any politicians who aren’t retired, and I prefer being mad at people I don’t know. I may be wrong though.

    Sessamee Street might yet save the day. If or when woo is fully integrated with medicine that works, hopefully Oscar the Grouch will be there to remind us all how to sing “One of these things is not like the others.” Most valuable childhood lesson ever.

  25. #25 Anton P. Nym
    January 18, 2011

    @ Lynn Wilhelm (#22)

    From my limited understanding of homeopathy, there are no other substances given than the dilutions.

    However there are other aspects to the treatment; counselling, dietary changes, stress management, etc. Those bits actually might do some lasting good if they weren’t so entangled with the sugar pills… it’s a pity that homeopaths don’t kick the pills to the curb and take up the mantle of patient support that is a serious weak point in so-called “allopathic” medicine these days.

    (I’m basing the latter on a documentary series shot by TVOntario years ago, by a doctor whose name escapes me at the moment dammit, investigating the draw of “alternative” medicine when modern medicine is getting so much better today than anything ever was before. One point was that many patients rejecting modern treatments fear or resent the powerlessness those treatments make them feel… and that modern clinical practice would be vastly more appealing given the chance to practice more “bed-side manner”.)

    — Steve

  26. #26 nybgrus
    January 18, 2011

    As a funny side note, based upon something I read here (or maybe at SBM) I chatted with a few of my friends and my girlfriend (who are all very intelligent, evidence based people) about homeopathy. Each one was convinced that homeopathy was “home based natural/herbal remedies” and had no clue that it was based on the serial dilution nonsense. When I tried to explain that, they argued against me saying that it was only the fringe quack homeopaths that would proffer such inanity and that in general that was NOT what homeopathy was! Illustrated the point perfectly that people just don’t know what it is and as long as they are reasonably sure it wont kill them or make them sick they are happy to take something from time to time if it claims to help. I think this is, in fact, a huge reason why homeopathy rakes in so much cash (at least in the US). Basically, people think it is just all natural herbal stuff, get a cold and go to the pharmacy to pick up some nyquil and see airborne or something else and say “Eh, why not.” Not that this is the crux of the issue, but I see this as a huge reason why they get floated so much cash.

    My sister, on the other hand, is a bit pigeon-holed. She and her husband lived in France and their closest friends are a French family who fully believe in homeopathy. Their youngest tripped and fell while visiting in Paris and they were given arnigel to prevent the bruise forming. The child developed no bruises and thus she was convinced that it worked. In explaining it to her, it was very difficult to get her to understand anecdote vs data, as one may expect.

  27. #27 nybgrus
    January 18, 2011

    @steve#26: I have a doctor friend who said the best line: “Homeopathy is a symptom of us failing our patients”

  28. #28 Sarah
    January 18, 2011

    As a chemist, I have to speak out in Forbes’ defense: What he said on the show was chemistry-speak for “as far as the machines can tell us, there’s no active ingredient in there, but I can’t say for sure because these machines can’t analyze at the molecular level.” He came as close as an analytical chemist could come to stating catagorically that there was absolutely no active ingredient in there. Unfortunately, in analytical chemistry, you can never say that something is absolutely not in something. You can just say it’s below the detection limit, and if it’s below the detection limit, the different between the sugars and the ingredient would be mind-boggling, which I think is what he meant by his statement to Marketplace.

    I don’t think he intended to imply there was active ingredient left, I think he intended to honestly admit that there’s a limit to the detection technology we have. That said, I’m a synthetic chemist, not an analytical chemist, so if there are any analytical chemists out there who would like to set me straight, I’d be grateful.

  29. #29 Ian
    January 18, 2011

    I was actually in the video (tall dark heavyset guy, striped blue shirt, snuck in the line about snake oil at the very end). I’m glad to see that this story is shaking things up a bit here. Lots of media hype and discussion. Hopefully we can keep it going.

  30. #30 Mojo
    January 18, 2011

    To support his claims, he produces a number of dubious studies by homeopaths, including Luc Montagnier’s claim that DNA somehow produces electromagnetic signals, because, I guess, he’s a Nobel scientist.

    But note the quotation (at 07:46 in the second video clip) that he “cannot extrapolate it to the products used in homeopathy”.

  31. #31 Anton P. Nym
    January 18, 2011

    I just remembered the name I was reaching for in #25: Dr. Robert Buckman, an oncologist at Toronto-Sunnybrook. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0118721/

    Alas, IMDB doesn’t list the documentary series I was thinking of in his credits and a hasty search of TVO.org didn’t get any hits on the series either.

    — Steve

  32. #32 Calli Arcale
    January 18, 2011

    Lynn Wilhelm:

    I just want to be sure there is nothing more to homeopathy I’m missing. Is the entire emphasis of the “practice” on providing these remedies? Or might the treatment include more? Are there non-diluted remedies a practitioner might use in treatment? I wouldn’t be surprised if some practitioners use other forms of treatment, but would those be properly called homeopathy?

    Homeopathy is not actually always without active ingredients; the lower dilutions may actually retain some molecules. One of the more egregious examples is Zicam, a homeopathic anti-cold remedy that contains 2X zinc. 2X is the lowest possible dilution; Zicam actually contains more zinc than is really safe to be stuffing up your nose. There was also a todo about homeopathic teething tablets which were falsely labeled — though they were supposed to be something like 30C belladonna, they actually had belladonna still in them. (Belladonna is also known as deadly nightshade, and is a very potent herbal pharmaceutical. Its active chemical is atropine, widely used in real medicine but very dangerous — it’s named after Atropos, the eldest of the three Fates of Greek mythology, whose job it was to cut the thread of a person’s life.)

    Are these things properly homeopathy? Well, it depends on who you ask. Legally speaking, Zicam is now homeopathic. US law essentially states that if it’s listed in the homeopathic pharmacopeia, it’s homeopathic — and after an embarrassing period in which the FDA banned Zicam for being an unregistered drug, the people in charge of the homeopathic pharmacopoeia added 2X zinc to the list and voila, now it’s officially homeopathic. But I’ve met people who say that’s not really homeopathy, and indeed, Samuel Hahnemann (the inventor of homeopathy) would not consider it homeopathy.

    If one is following Hahnemann, then a homeopathic nostrum follows two laws: the law of similars, and the law of infinitesimals. It also involves a completely different theory of disease; all diseases are caused not by toxins or poisons or germs but by the body’s response to various substances. This seems like a meaningless distinction, but it’s actually important because it meant whatever caused the symptom was unimportant. Rather than remove the cause, he’d reverse the effect. (Yes, this means homeopathy is *literally* treatment of symptoms rather than causes. In homeopathy, causes are irrelevant.) This is where we get the “law of similars” thing — whatever creates similar symptoms can be treated in the same way. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been poisoned with arnica or caught a stomach bug or been sitting on a boat for three hours and gotten motion sick; if you’re nauseous, you’re nauseous, and that’s all that matters.

    But there’s more. If ailments are the body’s response to things in the environment, and that response is predictable, maybe it can be manipulated. He’d found something like the dose-response effect, known since antiquity and particularly emphasized by Parcelsus — if you give a person more of a substance, it has more effect. The reverse is obviously also true: less of a substance has less of an effect. But what happens if it is diluted into absurdity? I don’t know what led him to try that, but he found that when he took a substance to induce a symptom and then took a severely diluted version of it as well, the symptom disappeared. He was essentially trying to experiment with *negative* quantities.

    Science was not widely practiced in Hahnemann’s day; if you found something, you just went with it, and he really went with it. Assuming that what he’d observed was correct, he then embarked on a massive effort to conduct “provings”, observational sessions to determine the effect of various substances. (Part of his assumption was that everything must have some effect, not just the stuff we already know about, like belladonna.) Experimental subjects (usually himself but sometimes an associate) would consume various substances, often at random, and then diligently record everything that happened. And I do mean everything. Much was made of emotional state and even the dreams that subjects had after consuming the test substance. This actually continues today; one of the weirder things I’ve read was a homeopathic proving of plutonium that somebody had linked to.

    Homeopaths who know their history are perfectly aware that their remedies contain nothing. (If their remedies do contain something, they are modern fakers, frankly, jumping onto the homeopathy bandwagon merely because it is legally protected from regulation. So there are two different kinds of quackery going on under one name, and the public is generally unaware of that.) So pointing out that the remedy contains nothing is pointless. Various explanations have been proposed; Benveniste is famous for his experiments supposedly demonstrating that water has a memory, and variations of this remain the preferred explanation, sometimes with words like “quantum” or “vibrations”. Left unexplained is how this memory can be transferred to a sugar pill, or why it works when the solvent is ethanol. And even the most traditional of homeopaths seem unable to adequately explain their own product; while a physician is required to understand basic pharmacology, a homeopath isn’t really required to even understand how the product is made, or the difference between 30C and 300C (which, if Hahnemann is right, should be a hell of a lot).

    One thing that has always been hazy to me is how homeopaths treat the subject of an overdose, as depicted in the video, or a massively excessive dilution, or inappropriate dosing. What happens if somebody who is feeling fine takes 300C arnica? I suspect that there is an underlying anti-materialistic philosphy. Everything material (except perhaps water) has a negative effect; the serial dilutions remove the matter and leave behind a positive effect; therefore, the wrong remedy cannot do any harm. It simply can’t reverse the nonexistent symptom. Orac often mentions how homeopathy resembles ancient superstition about sympathetic magic, but I also see a different ancient superstition — the idea that the world is evil, and the spirit is good. It’s not that unusual a notion, and people tend to find it at once abhorrent and compelling — yin and yang, Ahuru Mazda versus Angra Mainyu, God versus Satan, spirit versus flesh. By this logic, something material (such as Tylenol) cannot help but cause harm, while something spiritual (such as serially diluted belladonna) cannot help but make things better. It’s wrong-headed from start to finish, of course, but it does make a sort of sense. It just goes to show how far off track you can go if you never stop to examine your initial assumptions.

  33. #33 debby
    January 18, 2011

    Homeopathy cured my son of ear infection, pneumonia, strep throat and acne.
    Homeopathy worked for him after multiple Doctors could not diagnose a bladder problem, after 5 minutes using a homeopathic remedy he was cured.
    I now use Homeopathy for myself, husband, daughter and son.

  34. #34 Scott Cunningham
    January 18, 2011

    Cali Arcale @32 and debby @33 demonstrate homeopathy’s maddening principles perfectly.

    The more sound evidence and reasoning you use to refute homeopathy, the more the believers dilute their reading and the less “simply so” stories and emotional appeal they need to “cure” themselves of your evidence.

  35. #35 Epinephrine
    January 18, 2011

    @debby

    Homeopathy cured mMy son‘s of ear infection, pneumonia, strep throat and acne cleared up after I gave him a homeopathic remedy.
    Homeopathy worked for him after multiple Doctors could did not diagnose a bladder problem, after 5 minutes using a homeopathic remedy he felt better, but it certainly was never a diagnosed bladder problem in the first placewas cured.
    I apparently believe that if one thing follows another, the first thing caused the second. Because I fall for the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, I now use Homeopathy for myself, husband, daughter and son, relying on anecdotal evidence and my cognitive biases rather than rigorously collected data.
    It’s safe to say I believe in magic, and that you could sell me a rock to keep tigers away
    .

    Fixed it for you.

  36. #36 ebohlman
    January 18, 2011

    Lynn: In addition to what several posters mentioned, when a patient actually consults a homeopath (as opposed to buying a homeopathic nostrum at a drugstore) they’re dealing with someone who takes the time to listen to them, who generally has a pleasing personality, and who’s often inclined to tell them what they want to hear. The homeopath (or other “alternative” “practitioner”) provides comfort to people who are uncomfortable. In that sense homeopathy is an attempt to monetize and medicalize what should be a routine manner of human interaction.

  37. #37 Militant Agnostic
    January 18, 2011

    If comment 33 had contained a link, I would have been convinced it was a spambot. Is there nothing homeopathy won’t do?

    God versus Satan

    According too Tom Waits “there is no Devil, just God when he’s drunk”.

  38. #38 Antaeus Feldspar
    January 18, 2011

    It was brilliant because real homeopaths don’t make claims.

    Oh wow, an example of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy in the wild!

  39. #39 fjhio
    January 18, 2011

    The problem with this sort of thing is I suspect that the majority of the people who watched this episode of Marketplace were people who already knew homeopathy is bullshit. Basically, preaching to the choir. It’s unfortunate, but I seriously doubt it was viewed by many people who’ve fallen for the homeopathy scam, but I sincerely hope I’m wrong. It’d be nice for people to be able to realize what’s mind-numbingly obvious to the rest of us: homeopathy is bullshit.

  40. #40 Epinephrine
    January 18, 2011

    The worst thing about this is that there will be a seminar at my work this week on homeopathy, titled “Homeopathic Medicine: The Mystery of Healing,” by Julek Meissener, N.D.

    A gentle yet powerful method of health care, homeopathic medicine uses talk-therapy to arrive at an insight into what is unique about a person’s coping style. Symptoms are interpreted as a reflection of our coping style in action. A medicine is homeopathic when its nature has an affinity to what is unique about our nature, our way of coping.
    This talk will explore the foundations on which homeopathy is based; the holistic approach, the ideal of prevention, the significance of symptoms, treating the person and not just the condition, the body’s ability to heal, the gentleness and at the same time the power of the homeopathic approach, and how working with our self-healing ability rather than opposing it can lead to a profound transformation in our well-being. Clinical examples from his practice will be used to shed light on the mystery of healing.

    I’m not sure whether to simply not attend, or whether to attend and ask difficult questions.

  41. #41 Orac
    January 18, 2011

    I’d attend and have some fun.

  42. #42 Natalie
    January 18, 2011

    I personally loved the part where the manager of the company that they talked to said “there hasn’t been a lot of demand for clinical studies.”

    But seriously, an oncologist calling homeopathy bogus? That’s just silly. Who ever heard of such a thing.

  43. #43 Lynn Wilhelm
    January 18, 2011

    Steve, I agree with you @25. Thanks.

    Callie @32, I’m not totally sure what you were getting at there (your comment contradicted itself), but thanks anyway.

    Regarding Epinephrine @40:

    A gentle yet powerful method of health care, homeopathic medicine uses talk-therapy to arrive at an insight into what is unique about a person’s coping style. Symptoms are interpreted as a reflection of our coping style in action. A medicine is homeopathic when its nature has an affinity to what is unique about our nature, our way of coping. This talk will explore the foundations on which homeopathy is based; the holistic approach, the ideal of prevention, the significance of symptoms, treating the person and not just the condition, the body’s ability to heal, the gentleness and at the same time the power of the homeopathic approach, and how working with our self-healing ability rather than opposing it can lead to a profound transformation in our well-being. Clinical examples from his practice will be used to shed light on the mystery of healing.

    How can anyone argue with that? Sounds so good and holistic (not to mention woo-ey). I’d love to hear a real homeopath in action. Go, ask questions (if you don’t have to pay for it!). I am curious what your work is that they’d have this seminar.

    I definitely understand that alternative practitioners likely spend quality time with their clients. I can see how that would help many conditions. But $200 for a appointment?! I assume that the sugar would be extra. I’m in the wrong business!

  44. #44 Lynn Wilhelm
    January 18, 2011

    What’s with the weird indents? Sorry about that.

  45. #45 Matthew Cline
    January 18, 2011

    @Calli Arcale:

    Rather than remove the cause, he’d reverse the effect. (Yes, this means homeopathy is *literally* treatment of symptoms rather than causes. In homeopathy, causes are irrelevant.) This is where we get the “law of similars” thing — whatever creates similar symptoms can be treated in the same way.

    If I recall correctly, Hahnemann claimed the Law of Similars worked because two different causes of the same symptoms can’t simultaneously exist in the same body, so the introduction of a second cause would displace the first cause. See The Homeopathic View of Vaccination: Part II Also, American homeopath Herbert Alfred Roberts says: “giving the identical instead of the similar means the difference between isopathy and homoeopathy.”

    One thing that has always been hazy to me is how homeopaths treat the subject of an overdose, as depicted in the video, or a massively excessive dilution, or inappropriate dosing.

    I’ve seen homeopaths claim that it’s impossible to overdose on homeopathic remedies, which is why they have no problem giving a remedy made for an adult to a child or even baby. I’ve even seen the claim that it’s impossible to “wrong-dose”: if a homeopath mixes up the orders for two patients, then nothing will happen rather than something bad happening.

  46. #46 Epinephrine
    January 18, 2011

    How can anyone argue with that? Sounds so good and holistic (not to mention woo-ey). I’d love to hear a real homeopath in action. Go, ask questions (if you don’t have to pay for it!). I am curious what your work is that they’d have this seminar.

    I work in drug regulation (like your CDER and CBER); the seminar is being put on by the group that reviews things like homeopathic and herbal medicines. I will just have to be careful not to cross a line when asking questions.

  47. #47 Lynn Wilhelm
    January 18, 2011

    I will just have to be careful not to cross a line when asking questions.

    Wow, who draws that line?

  48. #48 Calli Arcale
    January 18, 2011

    He had an alternate theory of disease, that it was a derangement in the vital force. (It’s really amazing how many different *wrong* theories of disease have something like this at their heart.) If you tried giving it something to treat the symptom (what he termed “allopathy”), it would simply drive the derangement deeper, only to reemerge later. The similar substance triggers the same derangements to the vital force, and his initial idea I think was to try and do like you said and try to drive it out by duplicating the derangement. (Despite his distaste of allopathy, this wasn’t that unusual of an idea in the time period.) But you don’t want to make it worse, so try it with a lesser dose, and that’s probably how he stumbled upon the infinitesimals, having symptoms resolve after taking an absurd dilution of the target substance. It would be wrong to say that all homeopaths believe that, though. Modern ones tend to talk hazily about the memory of water (Benveniste’s contribution) or about vibrations, which are probably popular because they echo common newagy principles and make a sort of sense — if Substance A makes you sick by causing your vital force to vibrate a certain way, to fix it you must generate an opposite vibration. (It works for noise-canceling headphones, so why not?)

    And this should be another major red flag against homeopathy — the treatments remain the same although the explanation of why it works seem to be limited only by the imagination, and nobody seems to mind that. The attempts to prove homeopathy have consisted mainly of clinical trials and misguided experiments which serve more to justify a particular idea than to actually test it.

    Lynn — I apologize for being confusing; I do tend to ramble on at times. What specifically came across as contradictory?

  49. #49 sidhe3141
    January 18, 2011

    Aw. All I’ve got is that bit at the end? Oh well.
    Tap water again, of course, being a 20-year old American.

    You Don’t Really Understand! Drink!
    No True Homeopath! Drink!
    Good Vibes, Man! Drink!
    Quantum! Drink!
    Poe’s Corollary, in reverse! Drink!
    Misinforming the Public! Drink!
    Quantum! Drink!
    And again! Drink!
    Science Is Really On My Side! Drink!

  50. #50 Lynn Wilhelm
    January 18, 2011

    Sorry, Calli, I found it hard to see where you were commenting on Hahnemann and where you were discussing his work. Then I really lost you in the last paragraph when you were talking about evil and Tylenol… I reread after I saw your comment in BA, and it made more sense.

    I guess I’m tired.

  51. #51 Calli Arcale
    January 18, 2011

    Don’t apologize; that would be my rambling doing that, so I’m the one who owes you an apology. I don’t always make as much sense as I’d like, partly because my fingers sometimes have trouble keeping up with my brain. ;-)

    Case in point: I had a witty quote in mind when I started this post, but have already completely forgotten it!

  52. #52 Militant Agnostic
    January 18, 2011

    @49 – Take it easy or you could end up with hyponatremia from all that water.

  53. #53 Epinephrine
    January 18, 2011

    Wow, who draws that line?

    Well, there are many in that group who believe in the products they review, and I suspect it would be in bad form to attack their invitee too harshly. I believe some reviewers have their homeopathy accreditations (I know…), and at least one member of the advisory committee is a homeopath.

  54. #54 Dalradian
    January 18, 2011

    absoutely staggered by the claims the homeopaths make, though shouldn’t be suprised. In the UK, they wouldn’t dare say they could cure cancer, as the Cancer Claims Act 1939 means that any such claims have to be backed up by evidence.

    They just find weasel words to imply they can help, but at least if they overstep the mark we can get them taken to court. Wish the vaccine claims had the same protection.

  55. #55 Matthew Cline
    January 18, 2011

    If you tried giving it something to treat the symptom (what he termed “allopathy”), it would simply drive the derangement deeper,

    What does “drive it deeper” even mean? I’ve seen the claim that all symptoms are just manifestations of the body healing itself and/or getting rid of “toxins”, so that suppressing a symptom at best delays healing, and at worst allows toxins to further damage the body (in a symptom-free manner), but I don’t think that’s what’s meant by “drive the symptom deeper”.

  56. #56 Ben W
    January 18, 2011

    This was posted a while back, an “explanation” of homeopathy by a “Dr.” Werner… completely worth the time if you haven’t seen it before.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0c5yClip4o

  57. #57 Lynn Wilhelm
    January 18, 2011

    LOL! ohhh, the quantum woo is strong in that video! Of course she hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about.

    I love:

    The whole universal mass can be consolidated into the size of a bowling ball

    and later… “Stephen Hawkings”–she can’t even get his name right. I don’t think he proposed string theory. I didn’t even think he was a proponent of it.

  58. #58 borealys
    January 18, 2011

    One homeopath said confidently that a homeopathic remedy, which she presented to the reporter, could prevent polio instead of a vaccine.

    Actually, what struck me, maybe more than anything else in the show, was how clearly and clumsily she *avoided* saying that her nostrum could prevent or treat polio. She said it’s used for symptoms associated with polio, she said it’s a choice a lot of people make, but she never actually said on camera that it works. Almost as if she knew it was a bad idea to go on the record making a firm claim…

  59. #59 Travis
    January 18, 2011

    The whole universal mass can be consolidated into the size of a bowling ball

    This is such a painful quote. I just wish I knew what they thought this meant when they made the claim. I have a physics degree and such abuse pains me greatly.

  60. #60 bonus erectus
    January 18, 2011

    I makes me giggle that in a country where health care is ‘free’ to the user, people are still willing to pay out of pocket to see a homeopath rather than see a conventional doctor. I think that says more about conventional medicine than it does about homeopathy. But I guess you can still just blame the patient.

  61. #61 C
    January 19, 2011

    Something is amiss here. If something doesn’t work, how can it survive for over 200 years? (And still be growing)
    If conventional medicine is so good, why do people look elsewhere for treatment? If it wasn’t growing so fast and cutting into the big Pharms profits you wouldn’t even hear about it(do you really think big Pharm is in it for YOUR health? LOL!). People who knowingly take “overdoses” of Homeopathic remedies really show their ignorance of Homeopathy. People who use remedies as prescribed by an experienced Homeopath and experience their healing effects never go back to the toxic conventional medicines. Lastly, all you skeptics out there, prove me wrong by going to an experienced Homeopath and let them treat you – you have nothing to lose and will find out for yourself why Homeopathy is still growing after 200 years.

  62. #62 Chris
    January 19, 2011

    C:

    Something is amiss here. If something doesn’t work, how can it survive for over 200 years? (And still be growing)

    Why does astrology still exist? It is even older.

  63. #63 Penny
    January 19, 2011

    #61
    I don’t consult a doctor for self-limiting problems like colds. So if I consult a practitioner I am really not well, or seriously worried about a symptom. What I could lose by going to a homeopath is a diagnosis and proposed cure based on evidence.

  64. #64 Scott
    January 19, 2011

    comment 61 by C

    “Lastly, all you skeptics out there, prove me wrong by going to an experienced Homeopath and let them treat you – you have nothing to lose and will find out for yourself why Homeopathy is still growing after 200 years.”

    We know the ‘medicine’ is bogus, so the only thing left is the warm and fuzzie attention you get. Kind of like talking to a guidance counselor. This might make you feel empowered and possibly boost your emotions. But will it protect me from polio, malaria, the common cold, flu, measles, skin rashes, ear infections, heartburn etc… I don’t think so.

    Besides if I want to feel empowered I just sit down to a good book like The Demon Haunted World by Sagan, or maybe a Richard Dawkins book. They always make me feel smarter and better about myself. And if you read them late at night, just before you normally go to bed, they act as a powerful sedative. You might want to give it a try next time your feeling down. Its cheaper than Homeopathy and can actually makes you more intelligent.

  65. #65 Epinephrine
    January 19, 2011

    Something is amiss here. If something doesn’t work, how can it survive for over 200 years? (And still be growing)

    Yeah, if only we had an example or two of humans doing irrational things.

  66. #66 Anton P. Nym
    January 19, 2011

    Something is amiss here. If something doesn’t work, how can it survive for over 200 years?
    Obviously, homeopathy is a conspiracy backed by Big Sugar. Oh, you Water Shills, I’m on to you… *settles tin-foil hat*

    — Steve

  67. #67 Militant Agnostic
    January 19, 2011

    Lastly, all you skeptics out there, prove me wrong by going to an experienced Homeopath and let them treat you – you have nothing to lose and will find out for yourself why Homeopathy is still growing after 200 years.

    Will this experienced Homeopath “treat” me for free – I doubt it. Not only will I lose money, but I will also waste time. The practice of Bleeding grew for more than 200 years as have all kinds of contradictory religious beliefs.

  68. #68 C
    January 19, 2011

    #62 I haven’t been healed by Astrology or ever heard of anyone being healed by it.
    #63 I go to a regular doctor for diagnosis, they do do that well. Then I go to my Homeopath and he uses the info to prescribe and I avoid the dangerous drugs and their side effects. I always get better.
    #64 Yes, it can protect you from the conditions you mentioned – you really don’t know much about Homeopathy. 40% of healing can be placebo, from drugs or Homeopathics or any other therapy. I don’t care HOW it works, I just know IT WORKS AND there are NO SIDE EFFECTS. Keep reading your books – it seems to work for you.
    #65 There must be a growing epidemic of irrational people then or could it be that these people have discovered that Homeopathy works.
    #66 Haven’t heard that the stocks of “Big Sugar” as you put it, have gone up, but I know Big Pharms profits are being cut by complementary therapies. Who do you think they will attack – only those cutting into their profits.
    #67 Don’t fool yourself, will your doctor treat you for free? You are paying for it in your taxes or through medical insurance. As for bleeding, I haven’t seen it in the news lately as growing or healing a lot of people.

    Another comment on the overdosing actors group (same Brits did this in Britian last year) – taking a remedy you don’t need, is like taking a Tylenol for a headache you don’t have – no effect. The difference is that the Tylenol will damage your liver over time and overdosing on Tylenol can kill you. Homeopathy is safe, effective, reasonably priced, with no side effects and used throughout the world – that’s why it’s still growing!

  69. #69 Calli Arcale
    January 19, 2011

    Interesting. C, you may be able to answer my burning question about homeopathy. How is it that you can’t overdose on it? Surely if it can remove a headache, it is doing something. Why wouldn’t it to do more of whatever it is if you took more of it?

  70. #70 Epinephrine
    January 19, 2011

    @C (68)

    #65 There must be a growing epidemic of irrational people then or could it be that these people have discovered that Homeopathy works.

    Well, I hope you are a Buddhist, because either there’s a growing number of irrational people, or they’ve discovered the true religion™.

    Or perhaps you are simply falling back on argumentum ad populum.

  71. #71 Todd W.
    January 19, 2011

    @C

    Tylenol has measurable physiological effects. Scientists can perform various tests to determine where in the body the drug goes and what effects it has on different parts of the body. These are called pharmacodynamics (PD) and pharmacokinetics (PK), respectively.

    I am unaware of any such tests for homeopathy. If it works; if it has an effect on the body, then we should be able to measure where it goes in the body and what specific effects it has. Can you please point me to research showing the PK and/or PD of any homeopathic remedy?

    Also, with many of the more common dilutions being around 30C, how does one differentiate between the solution/pill received for one condition from that received for a completely different condition?

  72. #72 Militant Agnostic
    January 19, 2011

    There must be a growing epidemic of irrational people then or could it be that these people have discovered that Homeopathy works.

    Just listening to the news, looking at the success of Oprah, the Tea Party etc, leads me to believe the former is the case.

  73. #73 Interrobang
    January 19, 2011

    There must be a growing epidemic of irrational people then or could it be that these people have discovered that Homeopathy works.

    Can you demonstrate that there are more of them now than there used to be? Adjusted for population increase or not? If not, then how do you know the numbers are “growing,” other than if you just pulled it out of thin air (or your ass, whichever).

    Nevertheless, there has never been a shortage of irrational people. PT Barnum didn’t say it, but whoever did actually come up with “There’s a sucker born every minute” had the right of it.

    Actually, it’s funny — you don’t even have to know anything about quantum physics to know that when they use the word “quantum,” they’re talking bullshit. Anybody whose baloney detection kit is sufficiently tuned should be able to at least think, “Hey, there’s something really hinky about this.” Not least because none of these quacks tell the same pack of lies.

  74. #74 T. Bruce McNeely
    January 19, 2011

    I go to a regular doctor for diagnosis, they do do that well. Then I go to my Homeopath and he uses the info to prescribe and I avoid the dangerous drugs and their side effects. I always get better.

    So far.

    We don’t hear much from those who don’t get better, for obvious reasons.

  75. #75 amphiox
    January 19, 2011

    40% of healing can be placebo

    Which makes 60% of healing for which placebo is utterly, completely, and totally useless.

    (And real medicine, all the medicine that has ever passed muster in a placebo controlled trial, is all, all, 41% or better. And this is after the negative effect of adverse events have been factored in and subtracted out. At least if the trial had been properly designed.)

  76. #76 Anton P. Nym
    January 20, 2011

    Haven’t heard that the stocks of “Big Sugar” as you put it, have gone up, but I know Big Pharms profits are being cut by complementary therapies. Who do you think they will attack – only those cutting into their profits.

    Most companies making homeopathic remedies are privately held and have no publicly-traded stocks at all. Very convenient for them, I guess, as then they don’t have to publicly disclose their accounting figures. I’d certainly argue that they’re not providing these “treatments” out of the goodnesses of their hearts… or they wouldn’t have such enormous mark-ups on what is essentially sugar pills doused with distilled water.

    There are big problems with the pharmaceutical industry, particularly as fostered in the US, but for all that they actually do create products of proven utility.* The answer to the problems of “Big Pharma” is not to leap into the arms of what I jokingly referred to as “Big Sugar”, which certainly has a vested commercial interest in perpetuating homeopathic treatment but no legal duty to prove the safety and effectiveness of those treatments.

    — Steve

    * Indeed they are held accountable for that utility, given the rigorous approval processes they have to go through. Homeopathic remedies don’t undergo these trials… however much I wish they did.

  77. #77 C
    January 20, 2011

    #69 You really don’t understand Homeopathics. Taking one pellet or the whole tube is the same – one dose of remedy. Continuing to take a remedy once the body has started to heal itself will only push it to heal faster which can be uncomfortable so you have to listen to your body and stop taking the remedy once it starts to heal itself.
    #71 I’m not a practioner so don’t know where to get the info you need. But I have used it for over 20 years with great results that’s why I still use it. As for differentiating between symptoms, the prescriber matches all the symptoms to the remedy that covers the majority of symptoms. The body knows what it needs and reacts.
    #73 What’s the difference between rational and irrational?
    All in the eye of the beholder.
    #74 For 20 years I’ve been getting better. Probably don’t hear much from those who don’t get better because there aren’t many.
    #75 Double blind testing of Homeopathics is impossible because there are no identical patients in the world (even identical twins are not completey identical). You can’t test Homeopathic like pharmaceuticals but there are ways to prove they work.
    #76 Bottom line is that people don’t buy things that don’t work. Since Homeopathics are growing in use, they must work. And the labs that produce the remedies have rigorous quality control to insure remedies are properly formulated or else they don’t work.

  78. #78 Todd W.
    January 20, 2011

    @C

    Okay, thanks for letting us know that you don’t have any evidence, other than your personal experience, regarding homeopathy.

    I think you may have misunderstood my final question. How do you know that the remedy you are receiving from the homeopath is the remedy that you actually need?

    For instance, if I am prescribed a drug for, say, pain relief, I can, if I choose, take the pill to a chemist and have it analyzed to make sure that it is not a drug for cancer. For that matter, the chemist could tell that there is actually a drug in the pill, instead of just sugar/excipients. As far as I am aware, the same cannot be said for a homeopathic treatment, since there is no active ingredient left in the final pill/solution.

    So, how do you know that you aren’t getting ripped off or getting prescribed the wrong treatment, especially considering the power of the mind to trick oneself?

  79. #79 Tim
    January 20, 2011

    I think that all real drugs when properly administered to patients, do elicit to some degree the placebo effect.
    If the remedy being prescribed is administered by a perceived “professional” the expectation by the patient, that their symptoms will be resolved is more likely to show positive results due to their faith in the Doctors authoritative and professional advice.
    In other words, while the remedy being prescribed may or may not contain a potent level of some known medicinal ingredient, the patient’s improvements may present more favorably than without the good Doctors assuring bedside manners.

    How this works is not well understood but expectations seem to play a role. 12% of the population can be hypnotized; they are better listeners and can be profoundly manipulated through suggestion predicated that there is an agreement of trust developed between the Subject and the Operator.
    The hypnotist having established a rapport with the subject can with the snap of a finger, suggest almost any health related concept and expect to see a marked improvement in the subject’s condition. Not necessarily a cure – but you never know.
    Like the Placebo the evocative effects manifested through hypnosis are not well understood, but are received and channeled through similar suggestive pathways, through guided instruction, stimulating the appropriate neural activity into action, and thereby resulting in the assumed physiological effects.
    For example, the subject under hypnosis is led to believe they have just been stung by a bee on their left forearm. Soon a small localized edema or reddened welt begins to appear on the subjects forearm. A professional medical assistant is instructed to take a sample of the reddened area through the aid of a syringe. The sample is sent to the lab for analysis.
    No bee venom is found, however an unusually heightened degree of mast cell proliferation is identified which would be consistent with the physiological histamine response of someone being stung by a bee. Fortunately for the subject, the post hypnotic suggestion is only temporary and their symptoms will quickly dissipate.

    The deception practiced by the Hypnotist to offer benefit to the subject, cannot be interpreted as a malign form of misdirection, since an agreement to form this induction between the subject and Hypnotist has been established. In other words, the subject or patient has agreed to allow the hypnotist to persuade their mind to believe almost anything the hypnotist says.
    The Homeopath relies on the same process as the Hypnotist. The only difference is that the Homeopath knows not what he or she is doing. They are actually trained to believe that there is some magical essence inside their filtered H20 tinctures or little white sugar pills.
    In a sense, the Homeopath could be viewed as participant in a “double blind” experiment. Not even the Homeopath or Clinicians that administer new drugs during Clinical trials, knows what drugs are real or fake. However the Homeopath believes their remedies possess an actual curative substance.
    Therefore it would be inappropriate to accuse the Homeopath of deceptive practices since they themselves are unaware of the clever deception.

    Does Homeopathy really work? Yeah, well, kinda. At some level a physiological response may occur. But remember this is based on your belief.
    As stated earlier: 12% of the population are suggestible enough to be hypnotized and therefore are more likely to have favorable results from this practice. Can Homeopathy cure or prevent diseases? I for one would not want to be responsible for that claim. However there’s nothing wrong with convincing people that they will imagine themselves feeling better than before. Better to die happy then dying miserable and un-happy.

    To be clear – In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Homeopathy is a psychological treatment and can only be discussed in the realm of like minded individuals including Philosophers.
    If anyone tries to convince you, that there are many “Clinical Trials” or scientific studies that prove the efficacy of Homeopathy, there either lying or misguided.
    Don’t believe me? Look for yourself, you will not find one shred of evidence other than anecdotal testimonials – not that there’s anything wrong with testimonials, but they do not provide the non bias scientific inquiry necessary to verify a medical treatment.
    Simply stated, it’s more of an art than a science.

    Imagine what would happen if some prankster dude decided to spike someone’s coffee with 50 pills of Arsenicum album a commonly prescribed Homeopathic remedy. I would wager the joke would be on the Prankster dude as the only discernible change to the recipient of this doctored brew, would be a slightly elevated sugar count in his blood. Now try spiking his coffee with 50 hits of LSD – don’t do this – or your friend may end up in the Loony-bin for 24 hours or more.
    The Point – there are drugs that will cause profound effects without the suggestion or advice from your Doctor or anyone else, and there are “remedies” that will have no effect whatsoever without the suggestion or advice of your Doctor, including the convincing labels on some homeopathic remedies found on the pharmacy shelf.

    Homeopathy will contend they provide a green alternative, that their 200 year old tried and true method of natural remedies, are the safer and healthier choice and better than what the pharmaceuticals offer. Yes! They may very well be safer, just as safe as drinking a glass of water, because that’s what it is – only it’s been filtered a lot.

    People should make informed decisions before administering these placebos to their children.
    Administering a placebo to your suggestible child is not necessarily a bad thing to do.
    However a parent believing a specific homeopathic remedy administered to their child will act as viable substitute for the Polio vaccine, is grossly reprehensible, and by so doing is dangerously overstepping the boundaries of Homeopathic “medicine”.

    Administering a treatment practiced in the dark ages, and legitimizing this kind of malpractice to be administered anywhere in the world when the medical profession has a proven cure track record of a Polio vaccination, and where for example the disease was entirely eradicated in the US in 1994, is proof that the majority of people that adopt this style of Homeopathic health care or do not understand the suggestive nature of this profession, are either disillusioned by the medical profession or grossly lack any formal or scientific education.

    Polio was officially eradicated in 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia in 2000, and not by 200 year old medievalish Homeopathy. However in such countries such as Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan where vaccinations are not routinely administered the incidence of poliomyelitis still occur.

    Fortunately the chances of acquiring the polio virus are slim to nil in North America since the majority of people living in this country were vaccinated when they were kids, so now there children are virtually immune to this disease. All this accomplished through pure methodical concrete science, not some invisible Homeopathic magical water, possessing non verifiable magnetically resonating crystalline, cylindrical nanosphere structures, responsible for producing the healing essence of life force energies – what ever that means? But it sounds nice in a Harry Potter-esque kind of way.

    I wonder if the holy water in Lourdes could be bottled as a Homeopathic remedy.
    I’ve heard it’s good for removing stretch marks! Oh oh – just gave away a billion dollar secret………..

    Ontario going back to the dark ages – What’s their agenda.$$$?
    Marketplace, co-host Erica Johnson spoke with Dr. Joshua Tepper, Ontario assistant deputy health minister about the decision:

    Erica Johnson: Why regulate something that has not been proven? In the eyes of the public, doesn’t that give it legitimacy?

    Dr. Joshua Tepper: People are choosing health care, people are voting with their feet, if you will.

    EJ: But how are they going to be informed that homeopathy has no science behind it? That the remedies largely have no active ingredient? Is the Ontario government going to take out commercials that say, “Hey we’ve regulated homeopathy but there’s no evidence that it works?”

    JT: “What’s important for government is to make sure that when people are making choices, that is done in a structure that’s the safest possible… that they’re going to be treated professionally, that the environment you’re in is safe, that the educational and knowledge competencies is meeting a certain standard.”

    Obviously Dr. Tepper wasn’t prepared to answer the question of legitimacy, but the government needs to adequately address this silly issue and soon. If it’s simply about creating the appropriate tax revenues structures for the Homeopathic Industry then explain it that way. Licensed versus non licensed for example.

    I’m not particularly against the practiced use of placebos, but how do we address the issue of when is it okay to deceive and misdirect the public that are paying for remedies, that the most sensitive microscopy detectors in the world have never found any discernible or significant medicinal ingredient in any of these Homeopathic remedies besides water and lactose?

  80. #80 Chris
    January 20, 2011

    C:

    #76 Bottom line is that people don’t buy things that don’t work. Since Homeopathics are growing in use, they must work.

    I call bullocks. That is why I brought up astrology. People pay for personal charts, and it is a bunch of hooey.

    People also pay more than $50 for cheap plastic bracelets with stick-on holograms claiming they make them stronger. Ever hear of Powerbands? I won’t link to them, but here is where you can boy a Placebo Band, they are very popular:
    http://skepticbros.com/store/

    You are using the argumentum ad populum (argument from popularity, lots of people use it so it must work: Bzzzzt! Wrong!). Plus argument by assertion. You can’t just blurt out “It works, it really works! Trust me!” without providing some kind of real proof.

    If you want to prove homeopathy works there are two things you need to do:

    1) Take two bottles of separate cures (say a Boiron Nat Mur and a Boiron Nat Vomica). Remove the labels. Then figure out which is which. There is a prize if you can do that.

    2) Do an animal study. My favorite claim is from Andre Saine who said that homeopathy worked better for rabies than real medicine. So take a bunch of mice. Vaccinate one third for rabies. Then infect all the mice. Treat another third with homeopathy, and then let the remaining third be the untreated control group. See what happens. Write the paper and get published. No wimpy excuses like “Double blind testing of Homeopathics is impossible because there are no identical patients in the world.”

    C:

    You can’t test Homeopathic like pharmaceuticals but there are ways to prove they work.

    Explain how that would be done and still be accepted in the scientific world. Again, no wimpy excuses. If you show homeopathy works with real science, you will get a Nobel Prize. I am not holding my breath for that to happen.

  81. #81 Anton P. Nym
    January 20, 2011

    Bottom line is that people don’t buy things that don’t work. Since Homeopathics are growing in use, they must work.

    To borrow from antiquity, poppycock. People buy useless stuff all the time, and have since before we invented money.

    Patent medicine alone has a long and storied history of useless (even hazardous!) products selling for centuries thanks to misleading marketing and misguided testimonials. (Rhino horn and black bear gall bladders, anyone? How about swatches of linen brushed against saints’ relics? Or maybe some arsenic to clear up your complexion?)

    If we extend your claim to the general case that “people don’t buy things that don’t work”, then you’d have to conclude that Ponzi schemes make money* as the incidence of that type of fraud is burgeoning these days too.

    — Steve

    * And not just the people at the top of the chain, either.

  82. #82 Todd W.
    January 20, 2011

    @C

    Might I recommend reading the book Trick or Treatment, by Simon Singh (a science journalist) and Dr. Edzard Ernst (world’s first professor of complementary and alternative medicine).

    Also, re:

    Bottom line is that people don’t buy things that don’t work

    People will buy things that they think work. Whether it really works or not may not factor in. In addition to Chris’ examples, there’s also the massive expenditure by the Afghan government on glorified dowsing rods for detecting bombs. They don’t work, but that didn’t stop them from spending millions of dollars on something that puts the users and others at risk.

  83. #83 Scott
    January 20, 2011

    #75 Double blind testing of Homeopathics is impossible because there are no identical patients in the world (even identical twins are not completey identical). You can’t test Homeopathic like pharmaceuticals but there are ways to prove they work.

    Not impossible. Not even hard. Take N similar (don’t need to be identical, that’s a straw man) patients and allow the homeopath to prescribe whatever he wishes for each. Then a third party replaces half the “remedies” with pills that haven’t had the magic water put on them, without telling either homeopath or patient which were selected. Voila, double-blind.

    The bonus is that nobody can tell the difference at all, no matter how expert the homeopath or how well-equipped the laboratory.

    #69 You really don’t understand Homeopathics. Taking one pellet or the whole tube is the same – one dose of remedy. Continuing to take a remedy once the body has started to heal itself will only push it to heal faster which can be uncomfortable so you have to listen to your body and stop taking the remedy once it starts to heal itself.

    The interesting thing about this claim is that, if true, it would necessarily lead to the conclusions that homeopaths are both (a) ripping people off and (b) morons. If the amount of the remedy in one dose doesn’t matter, then said doses could be divided into 10 doses each, and charge 1/5 the price. Patients pay 20% as much, homeopaths make twice as much. Even better if you divide them 100 ways, or 1000.

    Quite an excellent illustration of the fact that it’s not even internally consistent.

  84. #84 Militant Agnostic
    January 20, 2011

    Todd @82 – Minor correction – it was Iraq not Afghanistan and there was at least one suicide bombing with multiple fatalities where the bomber went through a checkpoint equipped with the bogus bomb detector.

    My favourite bogus item that sells despite not working are gas saving gizmos, especially magnet based ones. People still buy these although the room for improvement in combustion efficiency in a modern electronic everything internal combustion engine is pretty tiny.

    If homeopathy can’t be tested by double blind studies because “people are different”, then why are such studies appropriate for drugs. In fact a double blind study of homeopathy has been conducted that allowed individualized treatments and homeopathy failed.

  85. #85 Todd W.
    January 20, 2011

    @MA

    Ah, yeah. I started to write Iraq, but second-guessed myself.

    Another item that doesn’t do what is claimed: certain very pricey audio cables. The claim is that they will help you get a better sound out of your speakers. Some experts performed a test when they knew which cables were plugged in, and stated the expensive ones had a better sound. However, when the experts were blinded to which cables were plugged in, suddenly the “vastly better” quality evaporated. More can be read about this over at the JREF site.

  86. #86 T. Bruce McNeely
    January 20, 2011

    For 20 years I’ve been getting better.

    And yet you remain bereft of the ability to think. By your logic, I would conclude that homeopathy causes brain damage.

  87. #87 Vicki
    January 20, 2011

    At least we see why the promoters of homeopathy aren’t content to say “our stuff works” but have to attack scientific medicine. In their world-view, if something is popular, it must work. Since they don’t want to admit that antibiotics, vaccines, and other modern medicine work, they have to find a way to believe that it’s not popular, and that fewer and fewer people are using it.

    Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy, of course. It didn’t take mathematicians to make the world round. If Christianity (or Buddhism or Islam) is true, it didn’t magically become true only when it reached a certain number of believers, before which all the premature believers were deluded.

  88. #88 Calli Arcale
    January 20, 2011

    C @ 77:

    #69 You really don’t understand Homeopathics. Taking one pellet or the whole tube is the same – one dose of remedy. Continuing to take a remedy once the body has started to heal itself will only push it to heal faster which can be uncomfortable so you have to listen to your body and stop taking the remedy once it starts to heal itself.

    Wait a minute — in two sentences you managed to state exactly opposite things. First you said that taking one pellet or the whole tube is exactly the same. Then you said that you would have adverse side effects if you continued to take a remedy after you started to heal. Which is it?

    Adn you didn’t answer my question about dilutions. What’s the difference between 30C and 300C? If the answer is “none”, what’s the point in selling different dilutions?

    #76 Bottom line is that people don’t buy things that don’t work. Since Homeopathics are growing in use, they must work. And the labs that produce the remedies have rigorous quality control to insure remedies are properly formulated or else they don’t work.

    You have a great deal more faith in the manufacturing process of for-profit industries than I do. Me, I don’t like to take their word for it, and I get very suspicious when a manufacturer tells me that it is actually impossible to test their products. While they might not all be con-artists, a scenario like that should draw con-artists like flies to honey, and I’d need a way of knowing which were which. For homeopathy, that way simply does not exist.

    Incidentally, it may not comfort you to know that product recalls are not limited to the likes of Johnson & Johnson. Hyland’s recently recalled homeopathic teething tablets following reports of adverse events where patients exhibited symptoms of belladonna poisoning. These tablets consisted of homeopathic belladonna, so obviously there was a manufacturing problem where the substance was not adequately diluted. This certainly does not mean all homeopathic remedies are suspect; you can’t draw that conclusion from this one recall. But it does mean that unquestioning faith in their quality control is really not justified.

  89. #89 Travis
    January 20, 2011

    For 20 years I’ve been getting better. Probably don’t hear much from those who don’t get better because there aren’t many.

    Am I the only person who thinks one might want to question how well a treatment works if they have been doing it for 20 years and are still getting better? How long does it take to get better? That just screams “Treatment is doing nothing” to me.

  90. #90 Andree
    January 20, 2011

    “Yet, at certain points, Forbes sounds as though he is implying that there was some left at the very limits of detection, but I might have misinterpreted that.”

    This is indeed true – they tested 3X and 6X, or as they call them 3DH and 6DH (10^3 and 10^6) dilutions and did in fact find some active substance (on the order of nanograms and picograms per dose) left in the substance. In fact, only 100000 doses would be required of the least diluted belladonna supplement to reach an incapacitating dose – a mere 2L of solution. Furthermore, the LD50 would be reached at 40L of solution.

    Probably not a concern for this particular “homeopathic remedy”, but I’ve seen, say, itch creams for sale which were labeled “homeopathic” and where the active ingredient was listed as “3X”, corresponding to a 0.1% concentration – which corresponded to a reasonable dose for most topical steroids that are actually used in itching creams!

    Of course, the 12X (10^12) and 30C (100^30) dilutions were found to have completely undetectable levels of active ingredient.

    Full results of the tests were posted at http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/includes/2011/episodes/cureorcon/labtests.pdf .

  91. #91 T
    January 20, 2011

    Travis why do you keep posting, “you’ve been getting better for twenty years”?
    Are you aware of how ridicules that sounds? Twenty years! What does that even mean?
    Could you explain how you have been getting better and better for twenty years?
    Better at what? Is this some affirmation someone has convinced you to repeat in the belief that you will get better? Better from what exactly? And why are you not finished getting better after twenty years? What kind of slow acting time released remedies are you actually administering to yourself? There is something wrong with your statement.
    How old are you and will you be saying this as you continue to age and finally die from – what ever? Please provide some evidence that Homeopathy has made you a better or healthier human being that has taken twenty years so far.

  92. #92 Chris
    January 20, 2011

    T, you are quoting “C” not Travis.

  93. #93 Tim
    January 20, 2011

    Thanks Chris.

  94. #94 Travis
    January 20, 2011

    I guess I was a bit careless and forgot to give proper attribution for that quote but I think it was clear I had similar thoughts about how odd it was to claim one was getting better for 20 years.

  95. #95 Chris
    January 20, 2011

    Well my younger son has gotten bigger and better over the past twenty years. Twenty years ago he could not do anything. Just eat, sleep and poop. He has since learned to walk, talk, swim, read and even hold down a job. Of course, he is actually just twenty years old.

  96. #96 Tim
    January 20, 2011

    Chris I read one of your posts. Don’t get caught up in the “prove there’s something in theses tinctures,” It’s already be proven that they contain nothing that would account for any beneficial chemical reaction in anyone’s body.
    While you provide a viable line of questioning the other issue is why are people screaming that they will bet their left testicle that homeopathy works?
    I don’t believe that these cheer leaders are simply playing devils advocates because I’ve met people with the same convictions. However I’ve also met a few Jehovah Witness prosthelytizers in my day as well. Not that there’s anything wrong with them but they also lack proof – verifiable proof. I understand your position of demanding proof that these remedies have some medicinal ingredient in them but you and I both understand that these potions basically contain non toxic water.
    The interesting factor is that some people actually experience some form of relief from their symptoms after being administered these magical concoctions. You need to ask yourself, then what other mechanism could account for there perplexing relief?
    Read my 79 and see what you think – sorry its a little long

  97. #97 Chris
    January 21, 2011

    Which “Chris” post? There are two of us (and I just noticed a third). I read through your post (a bit, it needs a bit more organization), it sounded like you were channeling Ben Goldacre rants on placebos.

    Also, not all homeopathic remedies are water. They are often just lactose pills. I just want people to know that what they are getting is a placebo, and a very expensive one at that. The true believers like “C” are actually acting on faith, homeopathy is more of a religion than anything else. What one must do is counter the claims of those selling the nostrums.

  98. #98 Chris
    January 21, 2011

    Forgot to add: Many people are simply ignorant about what homeopathy. They think it is not “Western” medicine, and my niece was taken aback when I asked how Germany was not part of the “Western World.” Or they think it is “ancient”, again she was baffled when I asked how 200 years years was “ancient.” Or they think it is herbal, at that… she flat out refused to believe that the remedies were diluted to that kind of a degree.

  99. #99 Em
    January 21, 2011

    Why do people choose homeopathy? Because of its false claims? Possibly. Or maybe they have tried every other possible therapy to cure their ailments and nothing has worked.
    So, they look for alternatives. Worse case scenario, the public is being conned. What would be the motivation to do that? Profit? Religion? Most homeopaths don’t strike me as con artists, or profit seekers. I am sure there are much easier routes to profit than pursuing studies for 5 years only to graduate into a field where skepticism and lack of awareness about alternative medicine prevails. Find out how many graduates of homeopathy are thriving in their business. So if they are not thriving. What could possibly motivate them in a field that is surrounded by so much skepticism. Skepticism can’t be good for profit. MIght it be that despite the fact, homeopaths can’t claim with certainty how or why it works…they have seen it work. They have a body of clinical evidence. Now, that might be truly motivating. But lets say that isn’t really it…let’s just say it is ignorance and the desire for profilt. I still don’t see the logic. Over 200 years ago it wasn’t profitable to be a homeopath. As western medicine grew homeopathy got less support and eventually was shut down altogether. Homeopathic hospitals closed in the US and elsewhere. Some homeopaths persisted. It couldn’t have been too profitable to persist in such a climate. Was it a draw to something “mystical” or “religious”? So they are faith healers? Again, unlikely. Look at the curriculum of any homeopathy program in Canada.
    No focus on faith healing there. What do they study then? Oh, anatomy, physiology, pathology, nutrition, homeopathic principles and materia medica (remedies) case studies,
    two years of clinic. If you were a faith healer, wouldn’t a program in Shamanism, or something to that effect be more desirable and aligned to your desire to do faith based healing? So if it isn’t motivated by religion, or faith healing, or profit, why do people devote 5 years to its study? That must be an awfully expensive program to invest in with no guaranty of outcomes. (financial that is)

  100. #100 Todd W.
    January 21, 2011

    @Em

    Over 200 years ago it wasn’t profitable to be a homeopath.

    Over 200 years ago, the state of medicine was also pretty brutal. A lot of treatments of the time that were accepted and commonplace in medical practice (e.g., bloodletting) did a lot more harm than good. Doctors did not have the benefit of scientific evidence to support many of their treatments. In many cases, doing nothing would probably have a better outcome than actually being treated by a doctor. So, it makes sense that homeopathy seemed like it worked better than conventional medicine.

    However, as science has progressed, it has become more and more clear that homeopathy is nothing but an elaborate placebo. I would say that many homeopaths honestly believe in their practice. That does not make them right, however.

    As to the profit potential, just take a look at Boiron, one of the largest manufacturers of homeopathic treatments. They make billions in sales every year.

    Personally, I cannot say what motivates someone to pursue homeopathy as either a treatment or a profession. There are probably multiple reasons. Whatever the rationale, though, it is not based on reality.

  101. #101 Tim
    January 21, 2011

    Good insight @Em. I was waiting for someone with a little clarity on this exact issue of finance and profitability. Your reasoning is sound.
    I came hear looking for some enlightening debate.
    So far I’ve mostly seen only two sides two this issue.
    Those that are blindly for – and those that are vehemently and equally blindly against.
    The people that don’t like being deceived:
    The people that don’t mind being deceived:

    A few questions to ponder:
    Why is it important that we inform people that Homeopathy is no better than a placebo?
    Why should anyone care if someone experiences some relief from nothing more than a placebo?
    If these remedies cost only pennies compared to hundreds of dollars; would the price difference influence your degree of disdain?
    – Or would you feel happier if the homeopathic remedies were given free of charge?
    Is it the price that offends you or their practice of deception that forms your opinions of homeopathy?
    Can homeopathy be considered a malign form of health care?
    Do Homeopaths intend to harm their patients?
    Do you believe the role of Homeopathy is to make its practitioners filthy rich?
    As there is no set educational requirement for a homeopath, should it be mandatory that they complete at least one year of pre-med before entering this field?
    Would it be better to abolish the whole alternative health practices?
    What system of health care professionals would you prefer?
    Should we allow the Government to make these choices for us?
    Should placebos be banned? Serious question
    Would you consider yourself a member of the church of modern medicine?
    Which health care practice do you place most of your faith in?
    Is the element of blind faith important when choosing the appropriate Doctor?
    How do you make an informed decision of what treatment is best for you?
    Would you feel more comfortable being recommended to a Doctor through a friend or the Yellow pages?
    Are Doctors recommended by a friend any better then the ones in the yellow pages?
    Have you ever interviewed your doctor about his or her qualifications?
    Have you ever asked your Doctor what his or her batting average is with regard to resolving your specific ailment?
    If a homeopath cured you of some ailment and later you discovered that he gave you nothing but sugar pills, would you ask for your money back?
    – if you do not get your money back would you consider suing?
    Is it okay for a Medical Doctor to prescribe a placebo to their patient?
    Do you know how many times your Medical Doctor has prescribed you a placebo?
    -Have you ever asked?
    -Would you want to know?
    The Medical Doctors’ motto is to do no harm. If your Doctor writes you a prescription for a fake pill and you get better, has the Doctor harmed you?
    Explain how you were injured form a placebo.
    What specific ailments would most likely be remedied through the administration of a placebo?
    Other than the toilet, Do you believe there is a place for the use of placebos, and if so where?
    (– there are drugs that will cause profound effects without the suggestion or advice from your Doctor or anyone else, and there are “remedies” that will have no effect whatsoever without the suggestion or advice of your Doctor, including the convincing labels on some homeopathic remedies commonly found on the pharmacy shelf.)

  102. #102 Pablo
    January 21, 2011

    Why is it important that we inform people that Homeopathy is no better than a placebo?
    .
    .
    .
    How do you make an informed decision of what treatment is best for you?

    These questions answer each other.

    How can you make an informed decision if you aren’t informed about the choices?

  103. #103 Todd W.
    January 21, 2011

    @Tim

    and those that are vehemently and equally blindly against.

    Most people here would change their minds if presented with evidence that homeopathy works.

    Why is it important that we inform people that Homeopathy is no better than a placebo?

    This gets into the ethics around lying to patients/consumers. There is also the danger that, if people think that one homeopathic remedy works for something benign, they may then proceed to think that other homeopathic remedies work for things that may not be so benign. This can lead to a delay in getting proper treatment, with the result of worsening (possibly irreversibly) of their condition.

    Why should anyone care if someone experiences some relief from nothing more than a placebo?

    All treatments have some measure of placebo effect. The difference is that real medicine has an effect above and beyond the placebo effect.

    If these remedies cost only pennies compared to hundreds of dollars; would the price difference influence your degree of disdain?

    Let’s take a look at oscillococcinum, a homeopathic preparation that claims to “Reduce duration and severity of flu symptoms.” Now, I can get a 12 dose box of this at CVS for about $15-$20. Since the product doesn’t actually have any active ingredient and therefore has no real effect on the influenza virus, I am paying $15-$20 for nothing. I could alternatively buy a 4-pack of Tic Tacs for about $4 and get the same results. Or, I could just not spend any money and again have the same results.

    Is it the price that offends you or their practice of deception that forms your opinions of homeopathy?

    It’s the deception, reasons for which include what I mentioned above.

    Can homeopathy be considered a malign form of health care?
    Do Homeopaths intend to harm their patients?

    Probably not. Negligent, yes. But wilfully harmful? In most cases no.

    As there is no set educational requirement for a homeopath, should it be mandatory that they complete at least one year of pre-med before entering this field?

    I would say that they should at least learn that homeopathy has no basis in reality.

    Would it be better to abolish the whole alternative health practices?

    All alternative health practices? No. However, all health practices should be required to show, through rigorous studies, that their practices are both safe and effective.

    Would you consider yourself a member of the church of modern medicine?

    Since modern medicine is not a religion, nope. I do, however, place value on the scientific process of weeding out what works and what does not.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to hit the rest of your questions, but I’d ask you this, in turn:

    If, say, Merck, produced a new drug for diabetes and sold it saying that it could treat diabetes, shouldn’t they need to prove that it actually performs as claimed? If the drug didn’t actually have any active ingredient in it and had not effect beyond placebo, would you give Merck a free pass, as you seem to do for homeopathy?

  104. #104 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    January 21, 2011

    @Em,

    On a similar note, why do so many people set up shop as astrologers and psychics? Surely there must be an easier way to make a living.

    And why do so many people believe in them?

  105. #105 Johnny
    January 21, 2011

    Over 200 years ago it wasn’t profitable to be a homeopath.

    Well, of course not. The silly idea was dreamed up in 1828.

  106. #106 Dr.T.S.Saha, M.D.(HOMEOPATHY), Head, Dept. Community medicine, The Calcutta Homepathic medical colle
    May 6, 2011

    What a simplified way of washing out the long observed ever tested effect of Homeopathic medicine on plant, animal, infant mad and lunatic,WHO HAVE NO POWER TO THINK OR ACTVE BRAIN. Exactly what your are trying to prove is very simple. You are the agent of multinational allopathic companies who have employed you to falsify the homepathy only after felling scared to see the burgeonong growth of market of Homeopathic medicine all over the globe. Listen, If have the courage to face the truth why don’t u contact researchers who have become fascinated to see the effect of Homepathy.
    Look, it is a dumb-headed attitude to negate the effect oF homeopathic medicine by swallowing the sweet globules in large numbers and feeling no bad effect afterwards. NO EFECT WOULD BE OBSERVED ON THE BODY IF THE THAT MEDICINE WAS NOT SELECTED ON THE PRINCIPLE OF HOMEOPATHIC PHILOSOPHY.

  107. #107 ArtK
    May 6, 2011

    @ Dr. Saha, yadda yadda

    Let me be the first to ask: Citation please?

    Where’s your evidence for the “…long observed ever tested effect of Homeopathic medicine on plant, animal, infant mad and lunatic,WHO HAVE NO POWER TO THINK OR ACTVE BRAIN” ???

    We’re all willing to change our minds here, but shouting and not supplying any verifiable evidence won’t work.

  108. #108 Narad
    May 6, 2011

    Sweet globules!

  109. #109 Militant Agnostic
    May 6, 2011

    Noice how “Dr.” Saha Mendacious Dufus (Homeopathy) describes the mentally ill as “WHO HAVE NO POWER TO THINK OR ACTVE BRAIN” – what an asshole.

    His spellchecker must be homeopathic.

  110. #110 warren packard
    May 15, 2011

    because you can’t see the plant soul in homeopathy is like saying that you can’t see God so he doesn’t exist. You can’t see your soul so it is non existent. Alchamists have claimed for centuries that everything in creation has a body a spirit and a soul even a thing as small as a molecule.. They prove it by showing a glass of wine. the wine you see is the body they distill it and remove the spirit then they further reduce it to a clear white crystal which is the soul.You cant see magnetism but it is an invisible fource that is there. It also has no electrical measurement but it is there. You can’t see the power of the moon yet it moves the tides.You cant see the invisible force that makes your tv remote change channels. yet it is there. Homeopathy has something invisible but it works, maybe it is the soul of the plant that was used in it’s making.This message just sent you an invisible thought. Do you acknowledge that it entered your mind?

  111. #111 NJ
    May 15, 2011

    wp @ 110:

    Homeopathy has something invisible but it works

    Except it has been tested and shown not to work at any level exceeding placebos. The other things you mention – magnetism, the gravity of the moon, the signal from a TV remote – can be physically measured, even though they are not visible to the naked eye.

    Your message did send me a thought: That no thoughts ever enter your mind.

  112. #112 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    May 15, 2011

    @Warren Packard,
    What’s your point? We can’t see gravity, magnetism, nor electricity directly – however, we can measure their effects and determine the rules (called “laws” in physics) that describe their actions. Even if we couldn’t see the moon, we could infer its existence.

    Do you have evidence that homeopathy (in its full form) actually does something? If so, what is that evidence?

    Also, what the heck is a “plant soul” and where did that come into the discussion?

  113. #113 LR
    March 26, 2012

    “the woo is strong”
    Now there is a quantifiable statement!!

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